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Just The Sports: 2007-12-23

Just The Sports

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Finally, Some Results

If ever I am asked to go to the top of Mount Sinai with ten commandments on how to be an NBA general manager for a successful franchise, surely one of the commandments will say something along the lines of maintain roster stability and reap the benefits in the next season. That is why I was especially interested in this NBA season to see if the trade the Indiana Pacers pulled off would finally pay dividends. When the trade was made between the Pacers and the Golden State Warriors, I completely agreed with the reasoning behind it, at least on the Pacers' side, largely because I felt any team would be improved by adding Troy Murphy's underrated efficiency of play and subtracting Stephen Jackson, who is crazier than Ron Artest, and Al Harrington, who is both inconsistent and inefficient.

I was then disheartened to see the Pacers compile a 15-28 record after the trade and miss the playoffs and wanted them to have success in this, the 2007-08 season, to warrant my saying it was a good trade for the franchise to make. Now, even though the Pacers are still not an elite team, they are certainly better than last season's post-trade roster, and all it took was added time playing and practicing together and the injection of a new coach to make the difference.

This year's incarnation of the Pacers, beyond their 15-13 which is obviously better than 15-28, have the exact same offensive and defensive efficiency (105.7), which one would expect from a nearly .500 team. They have succeeded in closing the gap from their 2006-07 post-trade efficiency margin of -3.4 points per 100 possessions and they have done so by cutting down on turnovers (.167 TO/Poss. to .153 TO/Poss.) and raising their assist rate (15.8 AsR to 17.5 AsR) while averaging an extra 6.1 possessions per game over what they did in the last forty-three games of last season. Therefore, even though the team's shooting did not improve drastically (52.3 TS% to 53.3 TS%), they are a more efficient offensive team.

Defensively, the Pacers have mostly maintained their statistics and since their opponents are averaging 6.2 extra possessions a game with no improvement anywhere else, we see that the defensive efficiency of the Pacers has improved (107.1 to 105.7).

As long as the Pacers stay healthy this year, at the very least a playoff berth is in the their future and all it will take is for the players who play the most significant number of minutes to continue to play together.


Monday, December 24, 2007

Texas Longhorns Without Kevin Durant

The Texas Longhorns basketball team is once again a prominent feature of the national headlines, though now it is for a different reason. Last year, the ink and typescript used to discuss the Longhorns focused mainly on the play of Kevin Durant, supposedly the best freshman ever to play college basketball. This year, with Durant's departure to the NBA and sports followers no longer completely enamored with a player of Durant's physique with his myriad skills, the 2007-08 Longhorns are showing they have improved even if they no longer have a unique player on the roster. Comparing the 2006-07 Longhorns' first twelve games of the season (9-3 record) with the 2007-08 Longhorns' first twelve games demonstrates the change is more than just results-based, it is also style-based.

Since the two teams' defenses have no statistically significant differences for which to write home about, it behooves us to discuss only the transformation on the offensive side of the ball. This year's Longhorn team runs at a slower pace than last year's team, but to their advantage. They are averaging 5.2 fewer shots per game and 7.3 fewer team possessions a game than last year and have increased both their offensive efficiency (117.0 to 126.0) and effective field goal percentage (51.1% to 56.9%) so in effect they have learned to value their possessions more effectively. With their defensive stalwartness maintained, those differences add up to a +31.0 efficiency margin this year while last year it was +21.3.

Let it be said that I am not attributing the Longhorns' improvement solely to the departure of Kevin Durant. Such a conclusion would be both shortsighted and erroneous. The real culprit behind the positive transformation of the Longhorns is none other than roster stability. There is probably no great prediction of improvement from one year to another in basketball than roster stability and the Longhorns' roster stability this year is .89, or the equivalent of losing only one half of a position starter from the previous year's team. Having so many freshmen on last year's team playing together on last year's squad only revealed the potential this team would have; this season, they are realizing their potential and in an attention-grabbing way.